Reader Privacy Victory Sends Patriot Act Fight Into Overtime

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In a major victory for proponents of readers' privacy rights, late Wednesday night, the efforts of a bipartisan group of U.S. senators postponed a final reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act. In a voice vote, the Senate approved a six-month extension of the Patriot Act, a step designed to give Congress time to craft a bill that includes stronger provisions to ensure the privacy of America's readers.

However, in a surprising move, late Thursday afternoon the U.S. House of Representatives failed to agree to the compromise, passing a Patriot Act extension that would end on February 3, 2006. The voice vote followed the rejection of the Senate bill by Wisconsin Republican F. James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. At press time, it was unclear what the next move in this protracted legislative end game would be. However, news reports said that the Senate would reconvene at 8:00 p.m. Thursday evening.

Earlier in the day, the Senate agreement had been hailed as a solid victory. Offering booksellers sincere congratulations on the results of their four-year effort to amend the Patriot Act, ABA COO Oren Teicher said, "It is critical to remember that two weeks ago it appeared that our efforts to amend the law were going to fail and that a reauthorized Patriot Act would be passed. But -- due to your amazing efforts over the past four years, together with our colleagues in the Campaign for Reader Privacy and an unusual coalition of civil liberties and business groups -- cooler heads have prevailed." The Campaign for Reader Privacy (CRP) is co-sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center.

Teicher noted that it was particularly astonishing that so many booksellers took the time to contact their elected representatives during their busiest season, and he added that "we owe a special debt of gratitude for the unwavering support of Senators Feingold, Sununu, Craig, Durbin, Murkowski, and Leahy, and, of course, to our stalwart supporter in the U.S. House of Representatives, Bernie Sanders. Despite the difficult odds, these members of Congress never gave up and continued to insist that a reauthorized Patriot Act needed to include greater protections for America's readers."

Following Sen. Bill Frist's (R-TN) failed attempt last Friday to end debate by passing a motion for cloture, the Act had been tied up in the Senate, where a bipartisan coalition -- led by Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and John Sununu (R-NH) -- blocked the bill because it did not do enough to protect citizens' civil liberties.

However, after days of heated political rhetoric on both sides of the aisle, the Senate voted on Wednesday, December 21, to extend the Patriot Act for six months.